I have enjoyed her work immensely for many years, both to read and to study with school pupils and she is a wonderful ambassador for Welsh poetry, who reads her work superbly and always conducts stimulating workshops. However, her statement at Hay was galling - 'In Wales,luckily, our Arts Council has cut some poeple's funding completely, but only failing organisations.'
Her attack on the Arts Council of England, which has carried out savage attacks on many vital poetry bodies like the Poetry Book Society, was totally justified. However, just because poetry hasn't been seriously affected by the WAC's cuts, it doesn't mean the arts in general haven't.
There is no way that the likes of Gwent Theatre, Theatr Powys and Spectacle can be described as 'failing' and it's an insult to do so. If poetry's 'Writers On Tour' had suffered the cuts that Theatre in Education had to take from Smith and Capaldi's Council, then Gillian Clarke would be up in arms.
Gwent Theatre has now ceased to exist and whole areas of Wales must depend on extortionate and unreliable alternatives or do without. It's not just the people who attended their many performances who feel the loss, but it's a tragedy for the countless school pupils who benefited from shows and workshops as they toured the Valleys and elsewhere.
Figures alone can only approximate their worth. It's laughable to think that a mere £250,000 would have kept them going ; a fraction of Welsh Opera's budget. In 2009-10 they delivered 220 performances to 14,213 young people in various schools; 81 theatre workshops with over two and a half thousand participants and their Young People's Theatre put on 7 productions.
Under any terms, this is successful not failing. It's an act of sheer philistinism by the Arts Council to axe Gwent, Powys and Spectacle. Gillian Clarke may represent poetry, but surely that doesn't stop her from seeing the wider picture ? Theatre in Education is just as vital as poetry workshops in schools.
Moreover, the cuts are already impacting on poetry in other ways. As Swansea Council prepare to alter the whole nature of the Dylan Thomas Centre, its rolling programme of literary events (unique in Wales) will be sacrificed. Schools have so much less to spend and visiting authors and visits to Ty Newydd will be first to go.
As public spending cuts reach more deeply, many organisations will stop schemes where authors read and run workshops. Cash-strapped universities will find it hard to deliver Creative Writing courses which aren't seen as lucrative and few writers will be invited to read there.
I was proud of Clarke when she rejected an OBE, following Zephaniah, though not seeking to make an issue out of it. When she accepted the Queen's Medal for Poetry ( citing R.S.Thomas's acceptance as a justification ) she explained that she did so on behalf of all the poets of Wales.
I'm certain there are many poets in Wales who, like me, would not want to be tainted by any association with the House of Windsor, that anachronistic, anti-democratic and money-wasting institution. There are many who would ask her to return their part of it, arguing instead for a forward-thinking Cymru with an elected President, who could, indeed be anybody, even a misguided poet!
CHOIR ON THE ESCALATOR
The Male Voice Choir are singing
from the town centre escalator.
There is no up or down,
shoppers stopped mid-bargain.
'Sosban Fach' and 'Hallelujah',
'Aberystwyth' and 'Calon Lan'.
Someone shakes a bucket
in time with their tunes.
Once, there were fights and ructions
at Valleys choir competitions ;
now they are fully blazered
with badges of identity like medals.
It's music that's ascending, descending,
with steps made from bass and tenor.
Some youths mock from the top,
smoking and gobbing as girls pass.
In the place of 'Myfanwy', white wheat
of their heads sways with the rhythm.